Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What's the "self" you present to others- to the world?

I might as well say it up-front: what follows is not about self-absorption or the pursuit of self-knowledge as the end.

Now, with that being said, I want to think about this concept of the "false self" and the "true self." That can mean various things to different ones of us, and I'll say shortly how I am using it. I am going back to some "saints" and spiritual writers that I was introduced to many years ago, and two of these, in particular, have had massive impact on the spiritual landscape in the last century: Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen.

In a short book by a Jesuit, James Martin, the focus was on these two men who have had such major impact, and I was prompted by this idea of false and true selves. The false self, as I'm using it here is the self we want to present to the world. It may come from what we others think we are, or should be. It might come from expectations of others. Or, it can come from something we may want to be or someone else we may want to be. But, it ain't me!

I've been a preacher for almost all of my adult years. (Actually, how I normally identify my role is as a pastor and part of that role is preacher, but that's another story.) I'll bet there isn't a preacher around who hasn't thought-whether they said it or kept it to themselves: "I wish I could preach like ____________. Maybe, if I work at it and mimic some of his/her preaching style, I could preach nearly like __________."

False-self confession: I heard Walter Wangerin (you may not know him but he's a wordsmith and gifted communicator) speak at a conference, and that's just what I tried to do for a time: preach like Walter. That was short-lived and that was a joke! I'm not Wangerin; I can't preach like Wangerin. Further, I shouldn't try to preach like him, as it just isn't me, besides the fact that I don't have those innate gifts he has.

This false self gets played out in things like this, but also in all kinds of other ways related to what we want to convey to others- to the world.

On the other hand, and the search we ought to be on, is living out our true self. It's more than a cheesy quip: to be who we are. To be the person God crafted us to be. To let go of trying to be anybody else, or to pursue a false trek just because society/culture/family has defined what "success" looks like, or what one should be.

And, the point of this is not to end up navel-gazing. As Martin commented on both Merton and Nouwen, with respect to this process of self-examination, he said "...it was not simply a narcissistic quest for self-knowledge. Rather, it was a discipline undertaken to allow them to become more loving and more centered on God." That's part of the point: to love- love God and love others, and not end up absorbed in the self with little ability to love others.

I'm drawn to listen to the Merton's and Nouwen's of the world, both modern and ancient. I'm inspired, not by some flawless folks (far from it!), but by those seeking to live authentic lives (true self) in our families, friendships, on the job, among the poor, seeking justice, pursuing peace.

This life-long journey for authenticity is anything but a quest for self-knowledge and then stopping there. It is to live and love more fully!


Anonymous said...

Hey Phil -

I am reading a book by Thomas Keating on the Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit and I was just reading about this "false self" yesterday.

Keating says, "...given the nature of the false self, we are in competition with everybody else on earth who is trying to do the same unfortunate and childish thing. It can't possibly succeed. When it doesn't work, we are immediately frustrated and so trigger afflictive emotions, such as grief, anger, fear and discouragement. One's life becomes an endless recycling of desire, frustration, and afflictive emotions."

I have found myself trapped by this pursuit of a false self. The breaking free often feels like a long and arduous task.

Personally I have found freedom in voicing the false self's I put on.

Myrrh45 said...

Thank you, Phil & Esther --

I enjoyed reading both the blog post and comment. To think that the masks we elaborately structure are actually about immaturity...I like that take on it.

I can only say that as I seek to be more authentic, to more honestly uncover my core self, what I find is that my most genuine core has great need. Wondrously enough, that great need can actually inspire and enable me to look more clearly into the eyes of those with great need and to offer them what I do have: often, no more and no less than the ability to accept them as they are.